Category: Alumni

Bo Chen: What’s next, NEXTCAR?

Bo Chen shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 15 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Bo Chen is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech. She’s been a visiting Professor at Argonne National Laboratory, and was named ASME Fellow in 2020.

What’s next, NEXTCAR? What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/15 at 6 pm ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Bo Chen, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech.

During Husky Bites, Prof. Chen and one of her former students, alum Dr. Joe Oncken, will share how engineers go about designing and creating the crucial elements of an all-electric vehicle ecosystem. Oncken earned his PhD at Michigan Tech—he’s now a postdoctoral researcher at Idaho National Lab.

Chen and her research team at Michigan Tech envision an all-electric future. They develop advanced control algorithms to build the nation’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure and highly efficient hybrid electric vehicles, integrating with advanced sensing technologies that allow for predictive control in real time. These technologies enable the kind of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication that will reduce our nation’s energy consumption. 

Drs. Chen and Oncken among the fleet, outside at the APSRC.

Throughout her career Chen has made major contributions in the field of embedded systems, developing cutting-edge applications for hybrid-electric and electric autonomous systems. 

One of Chen’s courses at Michigan Tech, Model-based Embedded Control System Design, is regularly in high demand, not only by ME students but also EE students. “This is a testament to her teaching ability and the importance of the topic,” says ME-EM department chair Bill Predebon.

Chen’s Intelligent Mechatronics and Embedded Systems Lab is located on the 5th floor of the ME-EM building. But she spends a good deal of time working on NEXTCAR research at the Advanced Power Systems Research Center (APSRC), located a few miles from campus near the Houghton Memorial Airport.

“Vehicles that are both connected and automated—two paradigm-shifting technologies—will soon become vital for the improvement of safety, mobility, and efficiency of our transportation systems.”

Bo Chen

In 2016 the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects-Energy (ARPA-E) awarded $2.5M to Michigan Tech for NEXTCAR research. The project—led by ME-EM Professor Jeff Naber as PI and Co-PIs Chen, Darrell Robinette, Mahdi Shahbakhti, and Kuilin Zhang—developed and demonstrated their energy reduction technologies using a fleet of eight Gen II Chevy Volt plug-in-hybrid vehicles (aka PHEVs).

The team tested the fleet on a 24-mile test loop to showcase energy optimization, forecasting, and controls—including vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

“The rich information provided by connectivity—and the capability of on-board intelligent controls—are shifting the old way (reactive and isolated vehicle/powertrain control) to the new way (predictive, cooperative, and integrated vehicle dynamics and powertrain control),” Chen explains.

Michigan Tech’s NEXTCAR research delivers direct implementation of engineering solutions, tested within the realities of on-road conditions.

Oncken is a hands-on engineer, but not all of his graduate research at Michigan Tech was done under the hood of a hybrid-electric vehicle. In an effort to maximize fuel efficiency in the fleet’s Chevy Volts, he worked with Chen where the car’s digital and mechanical parts meet—powertrain control. He looked at future driving conditions, such as changing traffic lights, and modified the vehicle’s powertrain operation to use the minimum amount of fuel.

Working in Chen’s lab, Oncken used Simulink software to develop a model, specifically looking at predictive controller design. That means when a traffic signal turns red, a self-driving vehicle not only knows to stop, but also gets directions on the best way to slow down and minimize fuel use. 

All in a day’s work for Dr. Joe Oncken

Oncken would simulate this in the Simulink model, embed the program into the Chevy Volt, then test it using five upgraded traffic signals in Houghton that rely on dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) to talk directly to the car’s programming.

By the end of the NEXTCAR project, the Michigan Tech team had achieved a 21 percent reduction in energy consumption.

Dr. Chen with her graduate students at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Now, with new funding from ARPA-E for NEXTCAR II, the team shifts to a broader application of vehicles with level 4 and 5 of autonomy. They will seek to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent this time in the hybrid Chrysler Pacifica and further apply the savings to the RAM 1500 and the Chevy Bolt—while also considering level 4 and 5 automation to gain efficiencies. 

Naber and Chen, along with Grant Ovist, Jeremy Bos, Darrell Robinette, Basha Dudekula and several more graduate students now work together on NEXTCAR II with another round of funding worth $4.5M. They’ll maintain vehicles in multiple locations, both on the Michigan Tech campus and at American Center for Mobility (ACM) for road testing. ACM is a partner in the project, along with Stellantis and GM.

Prof. Chen, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I was attracted by the power of automation and controls. It is currently affecting every aspect of our lives. I want to make contributions specifically to advance the automation technologies.

In her spare time, Dr. Chen likes to work out and travel. Here she’s in Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Hometown, family?

I was raised in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province in China. I lived in Davis, California for 8 years while earning my PhD at the University of California-Davis. My daughter loves snowboarding and lives in New Jersey.

Dr. Oncken, where did you grow up?

I grew up with my parents and two sisters in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I earned my BS in Mechanical Engineering at the University of North Dakota in 2016. I came to Michigan Tech to earn my PhD soon after, and graduated in 2020.

How did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

There wasn’t any one moment that made me decide to get into engineering. It was more of a process throughout my childhood. Growing up, I was always interested in how things work. My dad is very mechanically inclined so he was alway fixing things around the house and woodworking, so that launched my interest as a young kid. At that time he worked for John Deere, so I got to spend time sitting in tractors and combines, something that will spark any 5 year old’s interest in mechanical things. 

In high school, I also worked for a John Deere dealer. Another job I had involved the technical side (lighting, sound, and set building) of theater and concert productions. While these may seem like two different worlds, they both gave me a behind-the-scenes look at how machinery and large technical systems operate. Together they made me want to pursue a career where I’d be the one designing how things work. 

Finally, living in a university town, there were lots of opportunities to tour the University of North Dakota’s engineering school and see what students got to work on, opportunities that cemented my desire to go into engineering myself.

Joe, out on the Tech Trails.

Any hobbies? Pets?

My main hobby is anything outdoors. I spend my free time mountain biking in the summer, skiing in the winter—and hiking when I’m not doing one of the previous two things.

I also really enjoy cooking and wood working. I don’t currently have any pets, but I did grow up with dogs. I will have a dog of my own sooner rather than later!

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Alumni Gift of Advanced 3D Metal Printer Now Up and Running at Michigan Tech

One of the first test prints on Michigan Tech’s new 3D metal printer: intricate little fish.

A gift from Alumni, Michigan Tech’s highly-advanced 3D metal printer—a 3D Systems ProX350—arrived last March. It’s now up and running, able to process 11 unique metals, including bio-grade titanium (for biomedical applications), cobalt and chromium, several types of stainless steel, and more. With a resolution of 5 microns, this new large printer is state-of-the-art. 

Obtaining the new 3D printer was made possible by the generosity of Michigan Tech alumni. ME-EM Department Chair Bill Predebon received a 20 percent discount on the $875K system from Scarlett Inc. The owner of Scarlett Inc, Jim Scarlett, is a mechanical engineering alumnus. 

In addition to Scarlett, several other alumni donors pitched in. One anonymous donor provided over $600K , and five others have made up the difference to meet the full cost of $673K. Those five are: Ron Starr, John Drake, Frank Agusti, Todd Fernstrum, and Victor Swanson.

ME-EM department chair Bill Predebon and mechanical engineering alum Jim Scarlett

“Very few universities have a 3D metal printer of this quality and versatility,” says Predebon. “It is one of the most accurate metal 3D printers available. With approximately a 1-ft. cube size billet, which is an impressive size billet, you can make a full-size or scaled-down version of just about anything,” says Predebon.

“We can use our own metal powders, as well,” adds Predebon. “That’s a huge plus. Michigan Tech researchers, particularly those focused on materials development, can use the printer to deposit experimental metal compositions to produce unique metal alloys customized specifically for the 3D printing process.”

Faculty and graduate students at Michigan Tech will have access to the 3D metal printer for research projects. Undergraduate students working on senior design projects and student-run Enterprise teams will, too.

The process is direct metal printing, or DMP, and it’s a type of additive manufacturing, Predebon explains. “You start with metal powders, and from those you create the final metal part. You’re adding a material—in this case, metal—bit by bit. Traditional manufacturing is all about subtracting: taking metal away to make a part. This is the inverse, and it’s a game changer. You can do so much more this way.”

“For many industries—including medical, automotive and aerospace—3D metal printing is a game changer. Here on campus it will be a game changer for Michigan Tech faculty and students, too.” 

William Predebon, Chair, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

Very few universities yet have a system with this sophistication and quality, notes Predebon. 

The benefit for Michigan Tech students, Predebon says, is competitive advantage. “When our students interview for a job, they will be able to communicate how they’ve been able to produce parts in a way very similar to what industry is doing. Some companies have metal 3D printers worth millions of dollars. In industry, engineers can use one of those to print out an entire engine block,” he says. “When Michigan Tech graduates see one on out in industry, the 3D metal printer might be larger, but they will already be familiar with the type of system.”

According to Materials Science and Engineering Professor Steve Kampe, development of additive manufacturing of metals represents a huge opportunity that will be prominent in manufacturing for generations to come. “It is a transformative technology in engineering,” says Kampe. “Using 3D printing to create metallic components poses huge challenges; but the potential benefits are enormous.”

“Metal additive manufacturing along with polymer additive processes are industry 4.0 topics included in Michigan Tech’s online graduate certificate in Manufacturing Engineering,” adds Professor John Irwin, chair of the Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology. “It is very fortunate for us to have this metal 3D printer here on campus. We’ll use it to demonstrate additive manufacturing design principles and view product purpose: form, fit, and function. 

Michigan Tech’s new metal 3D printer is located on campus in the Minerals and Materials Engineering (M&M) Building. The location in Room 117, is near several other 3D polymer printers. For more information on using the new printer, contact MSE Research Engineer Russ Stein.

Take A Virtual Tour of Our 3D Metal Printer

https://www.mtu.edu/unscripted/2021/10/be-brief-metal.html


Alan Turnquist: Sustainability and Resilience at Michigan Tech—Where We Are and Where We Might Go

Michigan Tech is ranked by the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) as a STARS Silver campus.
What will it take to reach STARS Gold, or STARS Platinum?

Alan Turnquist shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, October 25 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 10/25 at 6 ET? Grab a bite on Zoom with Dean Janet Callahan and Alan Turnquist, director of Sustainability and Resilience at Michigan Tech. 

Alan Turnquist

Sustainability and resilience are buzzwords that cut across individual choice, corporate culture, and policy at all levels of government. But how do they impact higher education? During Husky Bites, we’ll learn some fresh perspectives on what these issues mean for the future of higher education and how faculty, staff and students at Michigan Tech are integrating sustainability and resilience into our core goals. 

Joining in will be Chelsea Schelly, associate professor of sociology, as well as Larry Hermanson, Michigan Tech’s director of Energy Management. 

“I work side by side with Larry and Chelsea on the Tech Forward Initiative for Sustainability and Resilience,” says Turnquist. “We all come from different places and have different perspectives, but we share the same passion for working together for the future of Michigan Tech.

Turnquist came to Michigan Tech in 2019 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he managed the Agroecology graduate program with faculty from over 20 different academic departments. He also led a team at UW Madison managing the GreenHouse Learning Community, an undergraduate residential program focused on sustainability, environment, food systems and social justice. 

Upon arriving at Michigan Tech Turnquist joined the Waino Wahtera Center for Student Success, where he designed, implemented and led orientation programs for incoming students. He moved into his current position as director of Sustainability and Resilience just last month, in September 2021. 

“Much of my work has a thematic focus on sustainability and social justice,” adds Turnquist. “Regardless of the theme, my professional passion and greatest skill is collaborating and connecting with people while working for a common cause.”

Prof. Chelsea Schelly

Associate Professor Chelsea Schelly joined Michigan Tech’s Department of Social Sciences in 2013. She earned a BS in Social Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an MS in Social Sciences at Colorado State, then returned to Madison for her PhD. Schelly researches and writes about energy practices, consumption behaviors, energy conservation, and the adoption of alternative technology in a wide variety of contexts—from solar electric technology and policy, off-grid living and intentional communities to Rainbow Gatherings and 3-D printers for distributive manufacturing. 

“We’re all three committed to seeing positive change that creates a more sustainable and resilient University,” says Schelly. “That includes more opportunities at Michigan Tech for leadership, research, and education in resilience and sustainability.”

Larry Hermanson

Larry Hermanson joined Michigan Tech in 2015 as Director of Energy Management. Hermanson oversees all aspects of energy management across Michigan Tech’s 3-million square foot campus. He is also an alum—Hermanson earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1992, and secondary education certification in 2012, both at Michigan Tech. He’s had a diverse career with over 20 years of experience in HVAC, construction, and industrial plant operations and maintenance, worked at iron ore and copper mining operations, and also spent a few years teaching high school science and math. Hermanson earned his certification with support from an NSF Robert Noyce Scholarship, and worked as a STEM teacher for Washington Island School in Wisconsin. 

Michigan Tech aims to be a leader in demonstrating sustainability through the campus experience. The university is a member of the EPA Green Power Partnership and, through the student-led Green Campus Enterprise, actively accounts for its campus carbon footprint each year. Michigan Tech is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and is ranked by AASHE as a STARS Silver campus. Many student organizations on campus focus on sustainability activities; and we’ll learn about Michigan Tech’s sustainable electricity, trash, water, and wastewater systems, too.

Sami and Lila

Alan, how did you first get into Sustainability? What sparked your interest?

Growing up in the forests and lakes of northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan gave me a deep appreciation for the natural world. Reading Aldo Leopold from an early age taught me the importance of being intentional about the way we interact with the land on which we live. Finally, studying international development and living in Central America brought home the amazing ingenuity of the human spirit, and the challenges we face in working across different perspectives in balancing individual freedoms and collective action.

Hometown, family?

I was raised in Phillips, Wisconsin, a small northern town surrounded by the Chequamagon National Forest. I eventually moved to Madison, where I spent 25 years studying and working before moving to Houghton in 2019. I earned a JD in Environmental and Administrative Law, an MS in Agriculture and Applied Economics, and BA in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, all at UW-Madison. My wife, Erin and I have two young children, Sami and Lila, ages 3 and 6.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

So many hobbies, so little time!  I love to be outside skiing, biking, paddling, and foraging. One big appeal of Houghton is that we have actual winter, with real snow that stays on the ground.  It’s like we live in a giant playground.

 Alan Turnquist once took a 550-day tandem bike trip with his wife, Erin, from the Arctic Circle to Ushaia, the southern-most city in South America.

My wife and I both like riding bicycles. We have commuted by bike pretty much every day for the past 20 years or so. Our “claim to fame” in the biking world is that we strapped our tandem bike to the top of an old volvo 240 wagon and drove it as far north as we could, to where the road ends in Inuvik, Northwest Territories—a small indigenous community in the Canadian Arctic where the Mackenzie River empties into the Arctic Ocean. We gave away the car and rode our tandem bicycle all the way to Ushuaia, Argentina, which is the southernmost point in South America. It took us just over 18 months to cover the 17,000 or so miles, with lots of down time to get to know some amazing people and places along the way. It’s been almost 10 years since we finished that ride, and it’s hard to believe that we actually did it. Just goes to show what a little persistence can accomplish!

The Schelly farmstead. Note the solar panels on the roof of the barn.

Prof. Schelly, How did you first get into social sciences? What sparked your interest in sustainability?

I grew up in suburbia, and spent my childhood wondering why anyone would want to live in that setting. Learning about sustainability provided an opportunity for me to see other ways of organizing human life. 

I am motivated by a belief: when humans learn to live in ways that are more respectful of the ecological systems upon which we all depend, we’ll learn to be more respectful of differences across human systems—and be more kind to one another. 

Life on the farm!

Hometown, family, hobbies?

Tight squeeze!

I graduated from high school in Oklahoma and ended up going to college in Madison, Wisconsin. I am now a mom in many ways (biological, step, foster, exchange) and share a farmstead with my husband, our (currently 6) children, 3 dogs and a cat, ducks, chickens, goats, horses, and often a tiny house or van dweller or two. We’re outside—and on the go—a lot! 

Larry is a volunteer firefighter/EMT with the Chassell, Michigan Volunteer Fire Department, formed in 1947.

Larry, how about your family? What do you like to do in your spare time?

I have two teenage daughters and enjoy spending time outdoors. I’m a volunteer firefighter/EMT with the Chassell Volunteer Fire Department. I also have a great dog, Teddy.

Larry with daughter, Kristen and friend Denice, enjoying the fall colors at Copper Peak, near Ironwood.
Teddy!

Read more

Michigan Tech Sustainability Website


Innovators in Industry: Future of Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility

Michigan Tech is excited to launch Innovators in Industry: a project connecting students with MTU alumni who are industry experts, leaders, and influencers.

The initial three-part series kicks off on Monday, October 25 at 7 pm with a session titled, “The Future of Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility.”

Featured alumni for the session will be Sean Kelley ‘86 of the Mannik & Smith Group, Inc., an engineering and environmental sciences consulting firm; Mark Rakoski ‘95, of Mitsubishi Electric Automotive America Inc.; and Birgit Sorgenfrei ’91 of Ford Motor Company.

Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering, will host the first session. Jeremy Bos, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (and also an alum) will serve as co-moderator. Bos earned a BS in Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2000 and a PhD in Electrical Engineering and Optics in 2012. He serves as advisor to Michigan Tech students taking part in the SAE AutoDrive Challenge.

The featured alumni will make short presentations with time for Q&A from the audience. All Michigan Tech students, faculty, and staff are invited to join the Zoom session.

During the session Sorgenfrei, Kelley, and Rakoski will discuss the future of autonomous automobiles and their design, and the design of the infrastructure with which those automobiles will need to communicate.

If the three alums could each go back in time, what would they have strived to learn while at Michigan Tech? They’ll share those insights with us, and provide valuable advice for students—those due to graduate soon, and in the next few years.

“Cars are some of the most complicated things out there, more complicated than jets or commercial aircraft. They’re basically really smart computers that move and let people get inside them.”

Sean Kelley

Sean Kelley is senior vice president and principal with the Mannik & Smith Group, Inc., a 370-person engineering and environmental sciences consulting firm with 15 offices in Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia. He earned a BS in Civil Engineering at Michigan Tech, and an MBA at Eastern Michigan University. He’s a registered Professional Engineer in both Michigan and Ohio.

Sean Kelley (’86 Civil Engineering), Mannik & Smith Group, Inc.

Kelley has led the development of infrastructure for closed-system test facilities to advance smart mobility technology, including three of the most significant facilities in the Midwest: University of Michigan’s Mcity in Ann Arbor; the American Center for Mobility located 30 minutes west of Detroit and the Transportation Research Center located at Honda’s North American test center in Central Ohio.  

He’s a recognized leader in the engineering consulting industry in Michigan. His focus on both the public and private sectors allows him to understand and appreciate the challenges associated with creating and maintaining a well-functioning and sustainable infrastructure to support a high quality of life for everyone. Kelley is often a featured speaker at conferences related to transportation and smart mobility. He has two grown children—Morgan and Aaron—who share his passion for learning and helping to advance humanity and a healthier planet.  

“Today there seems to be a huge disruption in the deeply embedded culture of the automotive industry: in order to get a common platform for smart mobility, there really has to be a lot more sharing and working together.”

Mark Rakoski

Mark Rakoski is VP, Advanced Engineering at Mitsubishi Electric. He joined the company in 1996 as an application engineer, soon after earning his BS in Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Tech. Over the course of his career, he has served the company in various capacities, including as senior account manager for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and director and executive director for both the FCA and Ford accounts. 

Mark Rakoski (Mechanical Engineering ’95), Mitsubishi Electric

In his current position Rakoski is responsible for leading product development engineering teams for vehicle connectivity, autonomous sharing and electric solutions, and Mobility-as-a-Service—with specific focus on infotainment and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). 

In 2020, Rakoski was appointed to the Mitsubishi Electric Mobility Ventures (MEMO Ventures) Board. MEMO Ventures explores and funds ideas to create new business opportunities for the company’s Automotive Equipment Group (AEG) in the rapidly evolving mobility sector.

Rakoski is also responsible for Silicon Valley new ventures team management, contract negotiations, marketing and global strategic accounts management. He resides in South Lyon, Michigan. 

“The auto industry has been assisting our customers while behind the wheel for years, starting with the introduction of cruise control in 1948. Working in Driver Assist Technology is exciting, as the technologies leading to self-driving vehicles are available to customers now to increase safety and convenience.”

Birgit Sorgenfrei (EE ’91) Ford Motor Company
Birgit Sorgenfrei (Electrical Engineering ’91) Ford Motor Company

Birgit Sorgenfrei is currently a Driver Assist Technology Applications Lead at Ford Motor Company. She was previously Electrical Lead for Lincoln & Ford Programs, as well as a systems manager responsible for Autonomous Vehicle integration and advanced features for electrified vehicles. Her more than 20-year career at Ford includes research on sensors for electrical power assist steering systems, component and system radio design, vehicle planning, hybrid battery software delivery, fuel cell technology development, and the introduction of StartStop Technology to North America. Previously, she worked for General Electric, Johnson Controls Inc., IBM, General Motors, and internationally for Schlumberger Industries in France, the University of Hanover in Germany, and Ford Motor Company in England and Germany. Sorgenfrei earned her BS in Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech in 1991, graduating summa cum laude. She then earned a MSEE degree from MIT, and later an MBA from the University of Michigan.


Other upcoming sessions of Innovators in Industry include:

Monday, November 1 – The Computing Revolution (hosted by the College of Computing)

Monday, November 8 – Entrepreneurship: Startups & Venture Capital (hosted by the College of Business)

All sessions will begin at 7 p.m. on Zoom.

The series is organized by the Office of Advancement and Alumni Engagement, Innovators in Industry aims to give students direct access to industry leaders to help shape their paths. Future plans for the Innovators in Industry series include in-person sessions and on-location visits for students to industry hubs.


Paul Sanders: Tiny House Design—Weather, Watts, and Materials

This green, sustainable, net zero Tiny House was designed and built by Michigan Tech students. It sits on a foundation near the shores of Lake Superior. And it’s comfortable and enjoyable year-round, even during a harsh winter.

Paul Sanders shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, October 18 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 10/18 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Paul Sanders, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech. 

Prof. Paul Sanders holds the Patrick Horvath Endowed Professorship of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech. He’s also an alum—he earned his BS in Metallurgy and Materials Engineering in 1991.

Tiny houses are springing up all over the US. But in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where Michigan Tech is located, total snowfall can exceed 200 inches during the winter. Designing a tiny house for Michigan’s UP involves several extra layers of complexity. Especially if you want that tiny house to be carbon-neutral.

Last spring, a group of students in the Green Campus Enterprise at Michigan Tech took on the challenge: design and build a sustainable and affordable tiny house for cold climates—one that would serve as a model for green, energy-efficient (tiny) housing.

Michigan Tech’s Green Campus Enterprise was created in 2008, part of the Higher Learning Commission’s Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) project. Under the AQIP project, Green Campus is charged with estimating the University’s carbon footprint and suggesting ways to reduce it. The team is advised by Chris Wojick, senior researcher at Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center, and Rob Handler, operations manager/senior research engineer at Michigan Tech’s Sustainable Futures Institute. Students taking part in Green Campus Enterprise annually measures the carbon footprint of Michigan Tech, and also design and implement projects to improve sustainability.

The Green Campus team began by working with their client, Sanders, to design the Tiny House with his family’s checklist and the team’s sustainable goals in mind. They researched and developed innovative solutions for making common building practices more sustainable. Next, the team modeled the thermal and energy performance of their preliminary tiny house designs. Once the best option was modeled, they worked directly with Sanders to create construction drawings and bring the house from idea to reality. 

Michigan Tech alumna Sierra Braun ’21 works as as an architectural drafter for S.C. Swiderski, LLC in Mosinee, Wisconsin, while pursuing an MS in Architecture. While on campus, she led the Green Campus Enterprise.

The team constructed sections of the tiny house on campus. Then Sanders, along with a lot of help from his son Caleb, assembled the home on their property in Bete Gris, Michigan, on Lake Superior. The result: a very sustainable (and cute and cozy) tiny house, which will hopefully be sided before the Keweenaw winter!

During Husky Bites we’ll meet the team, see the house, and find out just how they did it. Joining in will be Michigan Tech’s Tiny House team leader Sierra Braun, who graduated from Michigan Tech in May 2021 with a BS in Civil Engineering. While on campus, she led Green Campus Enterprise. Dave Bach, the team’s consultant and mentor to Sierra, will be at the session, too. Bach is an expert on sustainable building design and a Michigan Tech alum. Last but not least, environmental engineering undergraduate Nick Kampfschulte will be at the session, too, to tell us about the tiny house thermal modeling/sensing system he helped design.

A great view from the Tiny House!

Sanders, a six-sigma black belt engineer during his employment with Ford Motor Company, has led Michigan Tech’s highly successful MSE senior design program since 2010. Sanders has been successful in securing industry sponsorship for 100 percent of all MSE senior design projects since 2011. This time, however, he decided to sponsor and fund a student project of his own: A two-story tiny house. Instead of seeking out a senior design team for the Tiny House project, however, he sought help from Michigan Tech’s Green Campus Enterprise. Sanders knows a thing or two about Michigan Tech’s award-winning Enterprise Program. He previously served as an advisor to another Enterprise team, the Advanced Metalworks Enterprise.

Green Campus Enterprise artist rendering of the Tiny House, with a footprint of 200 square feet, it follows passive house principles. It’s also a net-zero energy building. Credit: Sierra Braun

Enterprise is a program unique to Michigan Tech, open to students of any major. Teams operate like companies, serving clients in a business-like setting to create products, deliver services, and pioneer solutions. There are currently 24 Enterprise teams on campus. Students in Green Campus Enterprise design and implement projects to improve the sustainability of the Michigan Tech campus, and measure its carbon footprint each year. The team was started in

Prof. Sanders, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

As a kid I liked to build structures (play houses, cars) out of wood. I also liked chemistry, math, and physics in school.

Hometown, family? 

I grew up in Pulaski, Wisconsin as the oldest of three. My father was a high school chemistry teacher, and my mother was an elementary school teacher.

Sections of the Tiny House were built on campus, then transported to Bete Gris.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy building and remodeling. I also enjoy meeting new people and living (not traveling) in different places around the world.

Did you know?

Dr. Sanders is one of Michigan Tech’s most prolific and creative researchers. Check out the website of his research lab, Alloy Research Central, at http://alloyresearch.mtu.edu.

Sierra, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I’ve always enjoyed thinking through problems, and designing and building things as a kid. Growing up, my family did some fun construction projects, too, from building dog houses and bookshelves to a cabin and a treehouse.

Hometown, family? 

I’m from Stratford, Wisconsin, currently living with my boyfriend and our two cats.

Nick Kampfschulte—and PeeWee

Nick, how are you involved with the Tiny House project?

My role was to aid in the overall design and modular construction. I also worked on designing and implementing its thermal modeling/sensing system.

Hometown?

I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

What do you do in your spare time?

I repair, build, and restore automobiles. I’m also into metal fabrication.

Dave Bach is an alum, too. He earned both his BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MS in Biological Science at Michigan Tech.

Dave, how are you involved with the Tiny House project?

I served as the team’s design and building advisor and mentor. I’ve been a professional sustainable builder and designer for the past 42 years. 

A dozen years ago, as a construction management instructor at Michigan Tech, Bach worked with Michigan Tech students on a design project to re-use two semi-trailer bodies and convert them to a single-family home.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’ve lived in the Copper Country since 1979, and in Houghton since 1999. I participate in all outdoor silent sports, especially mountain biking and cross-country skiing.


Amlan Mukherjee: Net Zero—How Do We Get There?

Forest fires, warmer summers, storms and floods: global warming is compounding the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, causing disruptions, costing us resources—and lives.

Amlan Mukherjee shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, October 11 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Michigan Tech Professor Amlan Mukherjee: “As stewards of this planet we owe it to ourselves, and to every species we share this home with, to ensure that we build to sustain.”

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 10/11 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with CEGE Chair Audra Morse and Amlan Mukherjee, Professor of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering at Michigan Tech. 

The United States has set the ambitious target of reaching Net Zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050, and roughly halfway to zero by 2030. 

“Reducing our atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions is crucial to reducing the long-term rise in average global temperatures,” says Mukherjee. “Given the carbon intensive nature of our economy, it seems unlikely that we can reduce our emissions to zero. However our shared goal of Net Zero—balancing the net amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are being emitted, versus that which is being absorbed back from the atmosphere—will result in promising new methods and technologies.” 

During Husky Bites, Mukherjee will explore Net Zero implications for engineering practice. Joining in will be Dr. Heather Dylla, Mukherjee’s good friend and longtime professional collaborator. Dylla is the VP of Sustainability and Innovation at Construction Partners Inc.

Dr. Heather Dylla, advises on engineering policy at the US House of Representatives

“There’s a product component and a process component to reaching Net Zero,” adds Mukherjee. “It is daunting. But I think we can do this. There are various approaches we can use.”

Mukherjee has extensive background and experience in life cycle assessment for the construction materials industries. His focus: integrated data, rich workflows, and model-based processes—the digital transformation of construction. 

Early on as a civil engineering professor and researcher, Mukherjee recognized the need to consider energy efficiency and life cycle environmental impacts of construction materials and processes when designing our infrastructure. He set out to lay the foundation for best practices. “I wanted to inform design and construction using life cycle thinking to optimize project cost and performance with an eye on reducing environmental impacts,” he says.

Fast forward 15 years. Mukherjee’s hard work has resulted in important project management tools to help government agencies and construction firms consider reductions in life cycle CO2 emissions of their projects—in addition to cost and project duration—as they develop strategies that improve the sustainability of their projects.

One size does not fit all, he says. “For agencies involved in horizontal infrastructure—such as roads, bridges, highways—we developed separate guidelines for construction, rehabilitation and maintenance projects. Incorporating Net Zero by 2050 will involve many of the same types of solutions,” adds Mukherjee. “We need data tools to enable improved decision making, recognizing that the solutions for one project may not apply to another.”

penguins on a beach with mother and chick
“Personally, I worry about how life on this planet—home to many different species—will adapt to warmer temperatures,” says Mukherjee. “As stewards of this planet we owe it to ourselves, and to every species we share this home with, to ensure that we build to sustain.”

At Michigan Tech, Mukherjee completed the National Science Foundation I-Corps program, created to reduce the time and risk associated with translating promising ideas and technologies from the lab to the marketplace. His involvement not only led to starting his own business but it also revamped the way he teaches his classes, with a focus on lean start-up practices and design thinking—a methodology for creative problem solving from the Stanford d.school.

“A design thinking mindset changes your approach to everything you do,” Mukherjee says. “You start looking at the world not just as a problem-solver, but also as a value creator. Once you identify the client’s needs, the math is the easy part, but being able to do the right math for the right project—that’s where the design-thinking mindset comes in. Are you solving a problem that matters, and are you creating value out of it? As the American Society of Civil Engineers reminds us, it’s not enough to build the project right, it’s also important to build the right project.”

Mukherjee formed his company, Trisight Engineering, in 2013. Trisight provides life cycle assessment services, data analyses, and data interface tools for sustainability assessment of horizontal infrastructure. He brought on Michigan Tech Alums Lianna Miller (’06) and Dr. Benjamin Ciavola (’14) as full-time managing partners.

“There’s a product component and a process component to reaching Net Zero,” adds Mukherjee. “It is daunting. But I think we can do this. There are various approaches we can use.”

Prof. Amlan Mukherjee
Presenting together at the Euroasphalt and Eurobitume Conference in Prague in 2016. Back then, Dylla served as director of sustainable engineering for the National Asphalt Pavement Association.

“In academia, Dr. Heather Dylla has been my collaborator for the past 8 years,” notes Mukherjee. “We’ve developed several protocols and practices together that are now in the process of becoming industry standards.” Some of their most recent collaborations took place while Dylla was with Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), working as a Sustainable Pavement Engineer. Dylla managed the FHWA Sustainable Pavements Program and the Pavement Policy, leading an effort to incorporate principles of life cycle thinking into the design and decision-making process. “That includes the three pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental, and social impacts,” she says. She earned her doctorate from Louisiana State University where she focused on quantifying the environmental impacts of photocatalytic “smog-eating” concrete pavements.

Prof. Mukherjee, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

“Here I am on a concrete paving job on I-496 in Lansing, Michigan.”

As a child my favorite toy was a model of a Boeing 707. I imagined all the places I could fly to on it, and that started my early love for all things transportation—highways, airports, and trains. I liked tinkering with stuff and putting things together, whether it was jigsaw puzzles or robots involving simple circuitry. I also enjoyed math and science in school, so engineering was the logical direction. 

During my undergraduate experience, as I began to understand the science behind climate change and appreciate its challenges, I was drawn to investigating ways to engineer functioning systems while also reducing environmental impacts. 

A few years ago, Prof. Mukherjee helped facilitate the development of the ISO-compliant environmental product declaration program for the asphalt industry in North America. Here, on an asphalt paving job on I-69 near Charlotte, Michigan.

A love for all things transportation and the many new worlds our transportation assets provide us access to—along with a growing concern for the environment—largely shape what I do.”

Hometown, family?

I was born in the northeastern state of Assam in India, but left before I was a year old and never returned. Hence, I have found home in many different cities, chief of them Kolkata and Seattle. Now I call Houghton home, having lived here the longest of any place.

Cheeky, indeed: that’s Oscar in the front, and Zoey.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy singing in community choirs, volunteering for service-oriented community organizations, and getting trained to be a better version of myself by my two cheeky dachshunds.

Did you know?

Prof. Mukherjee serves on the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Sustainable Pavements Technical Working Group. He’s on the board of both the Green Buildings Initiative and the Greenroads Foundation. And he recently co-authored guidelines for sustainable highway construction practices for the National Academies’ National Cooperative Highway Research program (NCHRP).

Dr. Dylla, how did you decide to become an engineer?

I had already applied to many schools to study environmental science, geology, or international studies, (though not engineering). Later in my senior year of high school, my Physics teacher introduced me to a mentor from the Society of Women Engineers. I was unaware of the opportunities in engineering and she explained all the options to me. Civil engineering piqued my interest since it covered many of the topics I was interested in: architecture, math, and environment. I decided to apply to one engineering school, Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It all worked out from there.

Heather and her family live in Minnesota.

Hometown, family? 

I grew up in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. I have a younger brother and sister. I am close to both. I never thought I would live in Minnesota and always dreamt of living abroad. In fact, my husband is from Brazil. However, after having a kid, we got tired of always using our vacation to see family and the busy life of DC with long commutes, so we moved to Minnesota to be near my family. My son Lucas is now 4 years old. He’s always by my side. 

Any hobbies?

After having Lucas, I feel my spare time is limited. Generally, he keeps me busy every free moment I have. We enjoy playing cars, puzzles, games, traveling, spending time with family and friends, watching movies such as Harry Potter, dancing, and swimming at one of the many beaches in Minnesota.


Michelle Jarvie-Eggart: The Land Owns Us—EWB-AU

Cape York, Australia

Michelle Jarvie-Eggart shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, October 4 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

portrait of Michelle Jarvie-Eggart
Assistant Professor Michelle Jarvie-Eggart

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 10/4 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering department Chair Audra Morse and Michelle Jarvie-Eggart, assistant professor of Engineering Fundamentals. Jarvie-Eggart will tell us about a unique engineering design challenge conducted in partnership with Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB-AU)

Instead of the concept of land ownership, Aboriginal Australians believe “the land owns us,” Jarvie-Eggart explains. “It’s not even a sense of stewardship of the land. The belief is that we’re a part of the land.” 

Working via Zoom last spring, first-year engineering students at Michigan Tech designed innovative structures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Cape York, Australia: shelters; keeping places for artifacts; and mobile amenities for campsites. During Husky Bites, Prof. Jarvie-Eggart will tell us all about this unique design challenge. She’ll also show us some of the resulting, creative student designs.

Joining in will be Michigan Tech environmental engineering alumna Amanda Singer. While at Tech Singer spent four years working as an undergraduate teaching assistant, aka “LEAP Leader,” and stayed on to earn her Master’s in Environmental Engineering with an emphasis on engineering education. Prof. Jarvie-Eggart was one of her advisors. Singer is now pursuing a PhD in Engineering Education at Ohio State. 

“It’s like picking up a piece of dirt and saying this is where I started and this is where I’ll go. The land is our food, our culture, our spirit and identity.”

S. Knight, Our Land Our Life, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Canberra, Australia

During their second semester at Michigan Tech, all first-year engineering students choose a design project. It’s all part of a required course called ENG 1102. “In a typical semester, we have sections doing brewery designs, adaptive bike designs, alternative power, and other projects,” says Jarvie-Eggart.

“We started the EWB-partnered project in my section of ENG 1102 in the spring of 2019, with about 100 students. Soon after that, the pandemic began. One of the first things I started doing was evening Zoom office hours, after my kids went to bed. That’s when my Michigan Tech students are doing their homework, “ she says.

A word spoken by Indigenous Australians, Kanyini, means responsibility and unconditional love for all of creation, including the land. Pictured here: Cape York, the most northerly point of mainland Australia

“I met with EWB Australia folks over Zoom, too. In my mining engineering days, I routinely worked with iron mines in Australia, so I was used to conference calls late at night. If clients are halfway around the Earth, I’ll make sure to be the one at my computer at an odd time. People are more willing to take meetings with me if it happens within the bounds of their normal work day. If I inconvenience them, or take them away from their family, they are less likely to give me their time.”

The Stanford d. School’s Design Thinking model guides the process in all sections of ENG1102, Jarvie-Eggart explains. “Working cooperatively to solve problems, the key elements are empathy, prototyping and feedback. When we say empathy, though, it’s not what you might think. It’s not about emotions, or feelings, but about putting ourselves in our clients’ shoes. We’re careful not to impose our own definition of what might be a problem, either. Instead we try to see the problem as the client sees it.” It’s a vital first step, says Jarvie-Eggart.

Michigan Tech Environmental Engineering Alumna Amanda Singer ’19

“We also expect students to do a lot of their own research for their projects,” she says. “This can feel odd at first. It can be a challenge to become comfortable with the ambiguity of problem-based learning. What are the important things to consider? What assumptions need to be made and how can you justify them? Why is your design a valid one? This is what we are asking our first-year students to do.” 

Jarvie-Eggart couldn’t have all 100 students contacting EWB volunteers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia. “That would have been a hot mess,” she admits. Instead they followed a typical RFI (request for information) process one might use in consulting. “Often, project engineers don’t have contact with the client, but the project manager does. So, we organized all our questions. EWB AU had gathered all sorts of resources and information from the host community, which our students reviewed before forming questions to clarify the design purpose or scope, or share initial ideas. I sent those on to EWB staff, who provided answers.” 

Once EWB-AU was ready, the Michigan Tech class took part in a Zoom interview Q&A. “We did that so students could see me asking questions and hear answers in real time from EWB staff. We also recorded it for students who couldn’t stay up late to watch. It looked candid—but many of the questions took some time and research to answer.”

Each year EWB-AU hosts a different first-year engineering challenge.

And the resulting designs? Jarvie-Eggart will share them during Husky Bites. One shelter design uses low-cost, repurposed items. Another has one open side, but is able to rotate depending on the direction of the wind during a storm.

“For me, the best part is seeing my students become excited about the impact engineers can make on a global scale,” she adds. “Many of them now express interest in doing international work, or using their professional skills to volunteer or give back to society once they become engineers.” 

During the class, Singer, with four years of experience as a first-year engineering LEAP leader, collected data to asses the impact of ENG 1102 course on the students. What did they take away? “In their responses, most of the students mentioned words and phrases such as ’empathy’, ‘working on a global scale’, ‘humanitarian’, ‘community’, and ‘sustainability,’” Singer notes. “Students became more community-minded and aware of the cultural context of their designs.”

Dr. Jarvie-Eggarts and Amanda Singer in cap and gown
On campus outside on Amanda’s MS graduate day!

“Amanda is now a PhD student at Ohio State and I couldn’t be more proud of her,” adds Jarvie-Eggart. “She is going to be a really great faculty member some day, maybe even at Tech if we are lucky.”

Each year EWB-AU hosts a different first-year engineering challenge. “Although, this semester, due to COVID, we will work with the same Cape York community,” says Jarvie-Eggart.

Michigan Tech is only the second university in the US to take part in the EWB AU Challenge. “I saw a paper at an American Society of Engineering Education conference, written by the first school to implement the project in the US, in Colorado. So I tracked down the authors, asked them about it, and they offered to get me in contact with the EWB AU folks,” Jarvie-Eggart recalls.

“EWB USA is working on developing their own design challenge for first-year engineering students, too. Once they get that up and rolling, we look forward to working with them, as well.”

Jarvie Eggart knows a meaningful educational opportunity when she sees one. She earned her BS in Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech, then an MS in Environmental Policy. After working in industry, she returned to Michigan Tech to earn a PhD in Environmental Engineering and a certificate in Sustainability, then returned to industry again. All in all, Jarvie-Eggart has over a decade of work experience in compliance, permitting, and sustainability issues for mining, as well as the municipal water and wastewater industries.

“I’m very passionate about sustainability,” she says. My goal by working in industry was to help make a difference for the corporations that needed it the most, namely the extractive industries like mining, and oil and gas,” she says.

Now she’s found another important place to make an impact. “I have experience teaching graduate students online as an adjunct faculty member,” she says. “But first-year students are an entirely different ball of wax. The first year of college is when students learn the essential skills they’ll carry with them for life,” she says. That’s huge!”

younger child at kitchen table wearing white hard hat
“I spent about ten years in industry before coming back to Tech to teach,” says Jarvie-Eggart. “One of my favorite things as a mom is watching the kids roam around the house wearing my old hardhats. Here is one of them doing their homeschool last year.”

Prof. Jarvie-Eggart, how did you first get into engineering?

My father was an electrical engineer (and a Michigan Tech grad). He sparked my love of engineering at an early age. I always loved math and science, and I knew about engineering as a career path because I had one in the house. The hard part for me was deciding upon which type of engineering. When I hit high school chemistry, I narrowed it down to either chemical or environmental engineering. Ultimately, I settled on environmental engineering. 

The Jarvie-Eggart kids, ages 5 and 7, visit the Husky dog statue on campus.

Hometown?

I am originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin. But I have lived in the UP for over 25 years. I met my husband, Brian, at Michigan Tech while we were in grad school. He works at the Advanced Power Systems Research Center. We have two children (5 and 7 years old). My Dad, who will be 86 in October, also lives with us half the year. He normally splits his time between our home and my sister’s in Madison. Due to COVID, he stayed with us all last winter. It is a full house, but there is a lot of love. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

We have two large dogs—one Shepard-mix and one King Shepherd—and a freshwater aquarium. I love to knit, play ukulele, and jog. This summer, I coached a just-pedaling group in the Single Track Flyers mountain bike program. It was a lot of fun. The kids kept picking flowers for me when we were out on rides. I’d tuck them in my ponytail. 

Amanda stands by a huge waterfall
Amanda Singer will be getting married next summer! Right now she’s earning her PhD in Engineering Education at Ohio State.

Amanda, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I first became interested in engineering as a high school student. I had always loved math and science and had several teachers encourage me to explore engineering as a potential career path. My decision to pursue engineering as my major in college, though, happened during Preview Day at Michigan Tech. I enjoyed hearing the faculty and students talk about the projects they had worked on. I loved the fact that you could pursue a wide range of opportunities with the degree. I started my first year at Michigan Tech as an general engineering major. Ultimately, I decided on Environmental Engineering, which I pursued for both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. 

Hometown, family?

Meet Kronk. He loves to go camping and hiking with Amanda!

While I currently reside in Columbus, Ohio, I was born and raised in St. Clair, Michigan. My fiancé, who graduated with a chemical engineering degree from Michigan Tech, currently works as a plant engineer in Phoenix. He’s in the process of transferring to his company’s location in Columbus. We spend much of our free time planning our 2023 wedding in the Keweenaw! My parents now spend most of their weekends traveling either to visit me, or my younger sister who is attending Virginia Tech while pursuing a PhD in Human Development. While we all miss the Keweenaw, we love being able to explore some new places!

“Kronk has a backpack that he can ride in but he prefers being able to explore on his leash. Here is a picture of him in the Porcupine Mountains.”

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy hanging out with my friends and family, traveling, reading, biking, and crocheting. I have a cat named Kronk, (adopted from the Copper Country Humane Society). He likes to join me when camping and hiking. Recently, I began training for the Door County triathlon (in Wisconsin). My mom and I will be competing together next summer!

Read more:

EWB: Bridging Barriers

Design Thinking: Solving Wicked Problems


Tess Ahlborn: Lift Bridge—a Michigan Landmark

Tess Ahlborn shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, September 27 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Prof. Tess Ahlborn: Structural durability and safety are her life’s work.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 9/27 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Tess Ahlborn, Professor of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering at Michigan Tech. The Portage Lake Bridge connecting Houghton and Hancock, Michigan, more commonly known as the Lift Bridge, was named as an ASCE National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in late 2019 following a State Historic Landmark designation in 2018. 

During Husky Bites we’ll hear about the wonders of the Lift Bridge from the very trio who submitted its 300-page application to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Prof. Ahlborn will be joined by two of her former students, Michael Prast ’19, now a timber structural engineer at Fire Tower Engineered Timber in Calumet, Michigan; and Emma Beachy ‘19, a design engineer at Corbin Consulting in Portland, Oregon. Both earned both their BS and MS degrees in civil engineering at Michigan Tech.

Emma Beachy wearing patterned knit capstands in front of a waterfall in the wood.
Emma Beachy ’19
Michael leans at a wooden deck looking out over a harbor on Lake Superior with sailboats
Michael Prast ’18

We’ll learn about crossings prior to the current Lift Bridge, the people involved in designing and building the Lift Bridge, and what makes the Lift Bridge so unique to the region and the nation to proudly earn the National Landmark designation. 

“Emma and Michael are two of Michigan Tech’s best students,” says Ahlborn. “I mentioned the topic of National Historic Landmarks during Bridge Design class, and let the class know I would be delighted if someone wanted to work on a nomination application for the Portage Lake Bridge. It didn’t take long for Emma and Michael to speak up, and the rest is history. I can’t thank them enough for taking on this project and seeing it through the application process!”

By the way, Prof. Ahlborn is a Michigan Tech alum, too. She earned her BS and MS at Michigan Tech, then went to University of Minnesota to earn a Doctorate of Philosophy in Civil Engineering in 1998. She’s been a member of the faculty at Michigan Tech for the past 26 years, teaching structural engineering courses focusing on concrete and the design of concrete buildings and bridges. 

She has a passion for bridges, something that began when she was quite small. “Growing up, I once told my mom I loved bridges. After that, she started taking me to look at a different bridge each week. Michigan has such beautiful bridges!” 

“Bridges are structural art! A piece of art fully exposed to the elements. They involve so many people every day.”

Prof. Tess Ahlborn

As the former Director of the Center for Structural Durability within the Michigan Tech Transportation Institute, Ahlborn has worked with the MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) and USDOT (US Department of Transportation) to seek solutions to improve the resiliency of our nation’s transportation infrastructure. 

In 2020, Ahlborn was appointed to the American Concrete Institute Committee 318, placing her in the small group of people who establish the ACI structural concrete building code used around the world, a “Supreme Court” of concrete, if you will.

Did you know? Prof. Ahlborn is a world expert in remote sensing applications for bridge condition assessment.

“It also means her peers consider her to be one of the most knowledgeable and trustworthy among them,” says Materials Science and Engineering Professor Larry Sutter, a concrete expert in his own right, as well as associate dean of research and external relations in the College of Engineering.

After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on the planet. As a member of the committee, Ahlborn helps to chart the future of structural concrete—its safety, sustainability, technological advances and environmental impacts.

“We think of concrete almost as rock, but a big part of it is the steel,” Ahlborn said. “It’s a frame of steel bars encased in concrete. People the world over need to know, ‘How do I design with it?’ and ‘How does it behave?’ The code is based on over 100 years of research.”

Ahlborn knows the code inside and out. As a civil engineering student at Michigan Tech, she learned ACI Code 318 from civil engineering professor Bogue Sandberg, now a professor emeritus. “Over the years I have taught at least 1,500 students in the classroom about the 318 code requirements,” she said. 

As for her secrets to good teaching, she insists there aren’t any. “All you have to do is be fair and consistent and crack a joke once in a while,” said Ahlborn. 

She invites alumni to speak to her classes, and she regularly brings in current news articles relating to the course, not to mention chunks of concrete with stories to tell. All together, “it helps the students understand why what they are learning is important.” 

Ahlborn also serves as program director for all who seek a Michigan Tech online MS degree in Civil Engineering with a structural engineering focus. It’s a growing program, she says. “Most of our online graduate students are full-time working professionals taking one course per semester,” she says. “Every student’s program is tailored to their needs. They can obtain a full MSCE or a graduate certificate in, say, Structural Timber Design.  It’s a great avenue for professionals to enhance their careers.”

Each of these chunks of concrete has a story to tell, says Professor Ahlborn.

Prof. Ahlborn, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

As a young kid, I was always fascinated by bridges.  It wasn’t until my high-school physics teacher asked me about my future plans. I was happy to report that I was applying to cosmetology schools, but I really liked bridges. After a few conversations, it was clear where I was heading: Civil Engineering. Soon enough, I jumped onto the structural engineering route and have loved working with bridges ever since!

Izzy and Charlie!

Hometown?

Growing up in an all-American family in Kawkawlin, Michigan, followed by the real growing up as a student at Michigan Tech, I had the opportunity to watch the Zilwaukee bridge construction and land a dream job in the Minneapolis area designing dams, hydropower facilities, and bridges. When the engineering market slowed down, I jumped at the chance to complete a PhD. My husband, Mark, and I were blessed with twins, Jess and Jake, and chose the Keweenaw as the best place to settle down. I’m happy to share that we are now the proud grandparents of Charlie and Rory!

What do you do for fun?

I truly enjoy the outdoors and living in the Keweenaw, a very special place. Izzy, our Great Pyrenees, brings joy to our lives everyday and I love gardening, especially when she’s not running through the garden!

Lift Bridge in Winter. Photo credit: Michael Prast

Michael, what first sparked your interest in engineering?

I’m originally from Holly, Michigan. I had a class in high school, Intro to Engineering, that went through some basics of the different engineering disciplines like electrical, computer modeling, and building. My favorite project was designing a balsa wood tower that was then compressed to failure. I really enjoyed it and my structure ended up being the most efficient in the class history comparing self weight to weight held. So I knew I wanted to do something with engineering and leaned towards buildings. I have been correct so far and love engineering a range of structures, mostly in heavy timber. 

How do you like to spend your spare time?

While my favorite is mountain biking, I love to hike, camp, hammock, kayak, and swim. I also have a passion for history. I’m part of the volunteer board for Painesdale Mine and Shaft and give tours of the Champion Mine shaft house, hoist house, and Captain’s office.

Emma, how did you decide upon engineering?

I was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. For a long time I thought I wanted to be an architect, but then, during my senior year in high school, I took classes in Physics and Calculus. I absolutely loved them! After that, structural engineering felt like the perfect middle ground between architecture, and math and physics.

Tidepooling on the Oregon Coast. Photo credit: Emma Beachy

Hobbies?

My hobbies mostly revolve around the outdoors. Living in Oregon now, I’m lucky that I can drive a short ways and get to the Pacific coast (I love looking for tide pools) or to the mountains (I also love hiking and backpacking). At home, I really enjoy cooking. Lately I’ve been trying out some vegetarian recipes, trying out some new and interesting ingredients. 


John Gierke: Drilling Wells in the Keweenaw—Needles in a (Geologic) Haystack

Community water wells in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula tap places ancient glaciers carved and filled. Pictured above: Interpolated bedrock depth map. Warm colors indicate progressively deeper bedrock (red being the deepest). Credit: John Gierke, Michigan Tech

John Gierke shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, September 20 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Michigan Tech Professor John Gierke is also alumnus. He earned both a BS and MS in Civil Engineering, and a PhD in Environmental Engineering, all at Michigan Tech.

What are you doing for supper tonight, Monday 9/20 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and John Gierke, Professor of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech. “The water we drink comes from geologically unique places,” he says. As a hydrogeologist, Gierke uses his expertise in teaching and research, and in places around the globe, most recently, El Salvador. Also on his own blueberry farm located about 20 minutes from campus.

“I was attracted to environmental engineering because of my interest in protecting human and environmental health, says Michigan Tech Professor Eric Seagren. “The use of a broad range of sciences within environmental engineering appealed to me, too.”

Joining in will be fellow colleague and friend, Eric Seagren, a professor of Civil, Environmental and Geospatial Engineering who specializes in finding new, sustainable ways to clean up environmental pollution, including contaminated groundwater.

As a hydrogeologist, Gierke studies the “spaces” in rocks and sedimentary deposits where water is present. Although groundwater is everywhere, Keweenaw geology makes accessing it truly challenging.

“Drilling productive wells in the Keweenaw is like finding needles in (geologic) haystack,” he says. “Groundwater supplies for many communities are in ancient bedrock valleys that were carved by glaciers and later backfilled with sands, gravels, and, sometimes, boulders left by the melting glaciers in their retreat. In the Midwest, groundwater exists almost everywhere, but in the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, the close proximity of ancient bedrock makes drilling trickier.”

During Husky Bites, Prof. Gierke will show us the inside of some especially interesting aquifers and wells—how they are found and developed, and why some rock formations yield water, and others don’t yield very much.

“Community water wells in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula tap places ancient glaciers carved and filled.”

Prof. John Gierke

“Imagine a 400′ deep glacial tunnel scour back, filled with sands, gravels, silts and clays and capable of yielding 400-some gallons per minute,” says Gierke. “Wells located just outside that ‘trough’ are stuck in bedrock, only capable of giving up hardly 20 gpm, only enough for a single household.”

“The replenishment rate of groundwater in the Copper Country, like much of the northern Midwest, is sufficient that groundwater exists almost everywhere,” adds Gierke. “The challenge in terrains like the Keweenaw, where bedrock is often near the surface, is not whether groundwater exists at depth, but rather where the geology is sufficiently porous and/or fractured to allow water wells to produce at rates sufficient for communities.”

This photo from Prof. Seagren’s lab shows the release of a blue dye, simulating the release of an amendment from a well.

For Prof. Seagrean, at Michigan Tech his major research focus is the bioremediation of contaminated groundwater, especially contaminants like petroleum products and chlorinated solvents. He studies the release of remedial amendments, such as oxygen, added to stimulate the biodegradation of contaminants.

“An amendment is added to a well, and then just released into the natural flow of groundwater without pumping,” he explains. Much of this work involves the use of lab-scale model aquifers. Seagren believes it can be very effective, affordable, and safe way to solve the problem. According to the USGS, more than one in five (22 percent) groundwater samples contain at least one contaminant at a concentration of potential concern for human health.

Seagren also develops and tests low-impact, bio-geoengineering practices to stabilize mine tailings and mitigate toxic dust emissions. “These approaches mimic and maximize the benefits of natural processes, with less impact on the environment than conventional technologies,” he says. They may also be less expensive.” 

Seagren and his research team zeroed in on a natural process, microbially-induced calcium carbonate precipitation —an ubiquitous process that plays an important cementation role in natural systems, including soils, sediments, and minerals.

Prof. Gierke, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

“Here I am on Bering Glacier in 2007, unfurling a Michigan Tech flag (that’s one of the University’s former logos).” Dr. Gierke is standing next to Dr. Josh Richardson (left), now a Geophysicist at Chevron. Josh earned all his degrees at Michigan Tech: a BS in Geophysics ’07, an MS in Glacier Seismology and Geophysics ’10, and a PhD in Volcano and Glacier Seismology, Geophysics ’13

I began studying engineering at Lake Superior State College (then, now University) in the fall of 1980, in my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie. In those days their engineering program was called: General Engineering Transfer, which was structured well to transfer from the old “Soo Tech” to “Houghton Tech,” terms that some old timers still used back then, nostalgically. I transferred to Michigan Tech for the fall of 1982 to study civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering, which was aligned with my love of water (having grown up on the St. Mary’s River).

Despite my love of lakes, streams, and rivers, my technical interests evolved into an understanding of how groundwater moves in geological formations. I used my environmental engineering background to develop treatment systems to clean up polluted soils and aquifers. That became my area of research for the graduate degrees that followed, and the basis for my faculty position and career at Michigan Tech, in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (those sciences are Geology and Geophysics). My area of specialty now is Hydrogeology.

Prof. Gierke and his grandson went fishing together on the St. Mary’s River in Sault Ste. Marie.

Hometown?

I grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where I fished weekly, sometimes daily, on the St. Mary’s River. Sault Ste. Marie is bordered by the St. Mary’s River on the north and east. In the spring, summer and fall, I fished from shore or a canoe or small boat. In the winter, I speared fish from a shack just a few minutes from my home or traveled to fish through the ice in some of the bays. I was a fervent bird hunter (grouse and woodcock) in the lowlands of the Eastern UP, waterfowl in the abundant wetlands, and bear and deer (unsuccessfully until later in life). 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Prof. Gierke designed and built the solar-powered drip irrigation system at the Gierke Blueberry Farm in Chassell, Michigan.
“We had a bumper crop this year,” says Prof. Gierke. “Despite the heat and drought, the irrigation system worked!”

I live on a blueberry farm about 20 minutes from campus in Chassell, Michigan. It’s open to the public in August for U-Pick. For the farm, I used my technical expertise to design, install, and operate a drip irrigation system that draws water from the underlying Jacobsville Sandstone aquifer. 

How do you know your co-host? 

Eric Seagren and I have been disciplinary colleagues for over 2 decades. Our expertise overlaps in terms of how pollutants move through groundwater. 

“Me cooking while camping with my family on Isle Royale two summers ago,” says Prof. Seagren.

Prof. Seagren, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I was attracted to environmental engineering because of my interest in protecting human and environmental health. The use of a broad range of sciences within environmental engineering also appealed to me. Growing up we had a family friend who was a civil engineer, and my Dad had a cousin who was an electrical engineer. My Dad himself had wanted to be an engineer, but he had gone to a one-room country school and a small-town high school, and when he got to college they told him he did not have an adequate background in math and science to pursue engineering, something we would never tell a student today! 

“This microphoto is from my work on the biomodification of the engineering properties of soil. It shows a calcium carbonate crust formed via bacterial activities.” Prof. Seagren will explain more of what can be seen here during Husky Bites.

Anyway, that might have influenced me some, but more importantly was my interest in protecting the environment. I had always spent a lot of time outdoors, either at my grandparents’ farm, or hunting and fishing with my Dad and friends and camping in Scouts. I took an environmental studies class in high school and that’s where I first learned about environmental engineering.

Hometown, family?

 I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and earned my undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Currently I live in Hancock, with my family, which includes my wife Jennifer Becker, who is also a faculty member at Michigan Tech, and my two teenage children, Ingrid and Birk. We have a cat named Rudy.

Any mentors in your life who made a difference?

Back when I was in college, most people got an undergraduate degree in civil engineering and then pursued a graduate degree in environmental engineering, and that is the path I took. While I was doing my undergraduate work at the University of Nebraska there was a young professor named Dr. Mohamed Dahab who really influenced me and took an interest in me and my career path to this day. He was a great mentor and example for me, and that’s contributed to how I try to mentor students, too.

Dr. Seagren’s ’53 Chevy.

Any hobbies? 

In my spare time I like to garden, do home repairs, hike, fish, boat, run, and Nordic ski. I’m also fixing up a ‘53 Chevy pick-up from my grandpa’s farm. We used to use the truck to haul grain from the farm to the elevator in town. It’s a nice shade of blue. Next summer we hope to fill the back with blueberries from John’s farm and enter it into a local parade.

Read more:

How the Rocks Connect Us

Keweenaw Geoheritage: Glaciers

Field Trip to Alaska (Bering Glacier)


Joe Shawhan: Hockey in the Copper Country

Coach Joe Shawhan stands with arms folded with ice rink in the background.
Joe Shawhan, Michigan Tech Men’s Hockey Head Coach

Michigan Tech Hockey Coach Joe Shawhan shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, September 13 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Head shot of John Scott wearing his gold MTU hockey jersey.
NHL MVP and former Michigan Tech hockey player John Scott ’10 (Mechanical Engineering). If you haven’t already, check out his podcast, Dropping the Gloves.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 9/13 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Joe Shawhan, Head Coach of Men’s Hockey at Michigan Tech.

Yup, it’s time to talk hockey. Join in while two Michigan Tech hockey legends shoot the breeze. Serving as co-host along with Dean Janet Callahan during this session of Husky Bites is NHL All-Star MVP John Scott, a Michigan Tech alum. Scott graduated with his BS in Mechanical Engineering 2010.

Coach Joe Shawhan grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan—aka Hockey Town, USA, training site for the Detroit Red Wings. Back then hockey was a neighborhood sport and every kid in Shawhan’s class got in on the game. During Husky Bites, he’ll share stories about how he first arrived in Houghton and his relationship with former Head Coach John MacInnes—and what it was like coaching against John Scott in Junior Hockey as a member of the Chicago Freeze.

Coach Shawhan points with his arm extended over the heads of his hockey players at the sidelines during a hockey game.
“The best chance a team has of success is with individuals who expect it and work hard toward it. Every day. All the time,” says Coach Joe Shawhan.

“John and I have never really spent much personal time together outside of the odd interview or Podcast,” notes Shawhan. “I coached against John while he was in Junior hockey and was intrigued by his presence in college hockey. I have respected his humble nature and greatly appreciate his willingness to remember his alma mater.”

Before coming to Tech, Shawhan spent six seasons at Northern Michigan University. He was a volunteer assistant in 2007-08, the director of hockey operations in 2009-10, and an assistant coach for four seasons.

Coach Shawhan holds a tiny Husky pup in his arms.
It’s fun to follow Coach Shawhan on Twitter. Here’s one: “Found our newest Husky recruit at the FSU Ice Arena.”

As the head coach and general manager of the Soo Indians from 1995-2005, Shawhan compiled a 474-162-43 record to become the winningest coach in the history of the North American Hockey League.

Here at Michigan Tech, for 2020-21 season, Shawhan led the Men’s Hockey team went 17-12-1, ninth in the country in wins. The Huskies ranked fourth in the nation in penalty kill (90 percent) and were seventh in scoring defense (2.1).

What about 2021-22? During Husky Bites, Coach Shawhan plans to share the roster—and his hopes for the coming season.

After Coach Shawhan’s presentation on Husky Bites, attendees can ask take part in the Q&A. In fact, Coach Shawhan and John Scott are both ready to answer your questions.

John, what do you want to ask Coach Shawhan during Husky Bites?

First of all, character. What type of individuals do you look for? Next, how do you recruit players to Michigan Tech? How did Covid change things last year? Why are you excited for this year? What are the challenges? And what’s important in order to have a successful team?

Laura Shawhan up on Michigan Tech’s Mont Ripley.

Coach Shawhan: How did you first get interested in hockey? What sparked your interest?

My interest in hockey developed because of my environment. Growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, all my friends played on my same team.

Hometown, family?

My hometown is Sault Ste. Marie Michigan. I am married to my high school sweetheart Laura and we have 3 children: Mia (AJ) Rosenberg, Jordan and Rachel.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My hobbies outside of hockey include fishing, spending time with family and friends, playing guitar and tinkering. I also like to build things.

“The strength of Michigan Tech hockey is the character of the players sitting in the stalls.”

Coach Joe Shawhan